DP16051 A Commitment Theory of Populism

Author(s): Massimo Morelli, Antonio Nicolò, Paolo Roberti
Publication Date: April 2021
Keyword(s): commitment, competence, Information Acquisition, interest groups, Moral Universalism, populism
JEL(s):
Programme Areas: Public Economics, Occasional Paper
Link to this Page: cepr.org/active/publications/discussion_papers/dp.php?dpno=16051

We propose a theory of populism as simplistic or unconditional commitment. Economic crises as well as social and cultural threats may be responsible for increased demand of simple credible policies, and reduced trust in the ability and reliability of representative politicians without policy commitments. We show under what conditions politicians choose to supply simplistic commitments in equilibrium and how this choice interacts with competence, antielite rhetoric and complementary fake news strategies. Whenever an equilibrium exists with one party choosing populist commitments and the other choosing delegation to experts, the former is always the one displaying lower moral universalism. Nationalism, closed border policies and protectionism are examples of commitment demands that reflect reduced moral universalism. When the desire for simple commitments increases, there can be also low political information when uncommitted politicians win.